This is life…

Buddhism teaches us that life is suffering and sets out a path we can choose to follow that eases the suffering, somewhat. One of the fundamental teachings is simply; it is what it is. That isn’t to mean we become passive and accept whatever comes our way without any emotion – we are human and truly that’s what causes the suffering. What it means is that life is what it is – we can’t control everything that comes into our lives day by day. We are surrounded by billions of other humans and on a daily basis, hundreds and thousands of others who come and go around us. Each with their own thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions. In addition, nature does its thing and in every second billions of tiny things happen. It would be an absolute impossibility to even comprehend how we could control all of that. Not to mention exhausting!

What we can control is our response to it. Buddhism teaches us to remain centred whatever the weather, so to speak. For a long time I always thought of this more in times of trouble – so when there’s a storm and life is flinging you about and blowing you this way and that. What I’ve come to realise, experientially, is that being centred is just as important when life is up as it is when it is down.

Life doesn’t differentiate between good and bad. It is the meaning we place upon things that make it so – that make our experience what it is. If we are always striving for the highs, the lows become unwanted and harder to manage. That isn’t to say we can’t be happy or content – it is more about accepting that life is not intended to be that way all of the time. When you can truly accept that deep within, you begin to see that when bumps in the road occur – or back to my weather analogy, when we get blown about a little or experience full on storms, they’re easier to deal with. They’ll come and they’ll go.

This week I was quite hard on myself about something I did – not involving anyone else, just an experience I had that I deemed not good for me. A friend said to me that a couple of days before I was on a high and just to remember that. Suddenly it was as though I was transported somewhere high above and given a different perspective. One where I could see my experience on both occasions – both what I had deemed high and then low were simply experiences – they were not good or bad, they just were. My perspective or the meaning I had placed to each experience is what made it so – what made it good or bad to me.

I’ve got several situations going on in my life right now that are challenging – as we all have at points in our lives. This is life and if we can remain centred – whatever that is for each of us, we can weather the storms without immense suffering. Experiencing emotions is normal – but being overcome and dragged along by them daily is what creates suffering. There are varying degrees to suffering – losing someone and grieving is suffering we often must endure and go through. However, suffering to life’s ups and downs is a choice. For example, worrying creates suffering that is most often totally unnecessary. We worry about things don’t even happen, yet in our minds the worries have become very real. There are times when this incessant worrying actually brings about what we are most worried about!

So what is being centred?

It isn’t so much about being in the middle because what is your middle may be different to mine or the next persons. It is about finding that ‘centre’ within, that place of peace or knowing, belonging where you feel centred. In my experience most people have to practice at this because to know that place is to know yourself. Finding time to be quiet, still and look within.

Meditation and mindfulness is a tool you can use for raising your level of self awareness, allowing you to create space to see the way you think, behave and act in a way that is objective. Meditation connects you with your ‘true self’ that can only be found within and truly the place of centredness. Seek and you will find – start a regular daily meditation practice. Over time as your self awareness grows and you create space, being able to bring yourself back to centre becomes something you do naturally.  It becomes a sanctuary and a place of peace where you can rest and restore from whatever life brings your way.

[Thank you for this beautiful image…Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash]

Gone

Today I practised ‘gone’ in my mediation. I read about meditation masters who practice this.

Simple, yet powerful.

Gone is always something I have struggled with for most of my life. When I was 7, I got home from school one day to find that my older two brothers and sister had gone. I had no idea where they were or why they had left.

Growing up my family dynamics were complicated. At the time of course I was just a child and had two older brothers, an older sister and a younger brother.

The reality of the matter was, however, that when my dad met my mum he already had three children. One from a marriage that was for convenience (that he had entered  into to keep him from being put into prison) and his wife abandoned their baby (my eldest brother) when he was just 9 days old in the back of a van. And two children from another mother, who he didn’t marry. Unbeknown to me there was another mother and child in between that, but I didn’t know about her until I was 25, so she never really featured in our brother and sister clan.

The first child, my eldest brother, thought that the mother of the second two children (my older brother and sister) was his mother. He was never told otherwise and he didn’t learn of this until he was 15. Inevitably my dad separated from this second mother and my eldest brother, although remaining with her, spent most of his time with my dad, living at my dad’s sister’s house. He then met my mum and because he wasn’t a man to be reckoned with and extremely possessive, was granted custody of the other two children. All three children lived with my mum and dad for the three years before I was born, which at that time would have made them 5, 7 and 9. So for 7 years we lived as brothers and sisters.

If you think about the events leading up to my birth, there was a lot of gone featured for my brothers and sisters too. Almost like something we all shared, even before I was born.

Back to the day I got home from school. There was never an explanation as to where they had gone and my memory was of sitting on our wooden stairs in the house with my younger brother crying and hugging each other. We were totally bewildered. Later on I discovered that they had gone to live with the second mother again. This came from the experience of going to see them there, not from being told or explained to about what or why this had happened. From that point on, all five of us would come and go. There were another two children who arrived later, but by that point gone wasn’t significant for them. Just something that seemed to exist for the five of us.

Gone has figured heavily in my life, because from that day forward, I actually engineered things to go out of my life before I became attached to them. At the time I was of course blissfully unaware of this dysfunction. This manifested itself into everything from friendships to school work and later to relationships and my career. Coupled with other behaviour such as rushing through everything at breakneck speed… born from living with an abusive father and living in fear of the unknown and what would happen next, being bad and so on, this just became my chaotic and destructive normal. Apart from the strong bonds to my brothers and sisters, especially my younger brother who had remained with me when the other three had gone, nothing stuck and I ended everything, usually abruptly only to then start something else before finishing it. Gone, gone, gone.

The pace at which this gone occurred became more frantic the older I became. Although now many, many (I could say many several more times but you get the gist) years later I have a good understanding of all of this situation and have forgiven, accepted and moved beyond the emotional trauma of it all, I notice at times, I am still somewhat drawn to gone.

You will sense my elation then that I learnt in meditation, gone is actually synonymous with joy and meditating on, ‘gone’ brings joy. It’s uplifting to me that the idea of ‘gone’, which previously dominated my life to such a debilitating degree, now brings joy.

Highlighting Buddhist philosophy, meditating on, ‘gone’ reflects the impermanence of life and of the suffering attachment to things brings. Everything ends and an acceptance of this brings peace, which in turn breeds joy.

To meditation on ‘gone’, simply sit and notice the end of the out breath, where the breath is gone and the point at which it has gone. Notice that moment. I realised there is gone at the end of the in breath too, for a tiny moment as your breath whispers in and up, as though floating in your meditation. There is a tiny moment of gone, before the exhale returns your breath out again. Notice the gone.

This spills into your mindfulness practice during the day. Notice the moments of gone in every day life. The sound of the wind stopping, a bird you are watching flying from a tree. Bigger things in your life like your loved ones, material things such as your home, car or money, nothing is permanent – everything ends and is gone at some point. There is something magical about gone – it signifies the end, but that marks a beginning. Impermanence as much as it brings suffering can bring joy and meditating on, ‘gone’ brings an acceptance of this and sheds a whole new light on your life…try it.

 

 

[this photo was taken in the late seventies of me and my closest brother; two peas in a pod…and the car is a Vauxhall Viva!]

Practice loving kindness

I learnt this while reading Tim Ferriss’ book, Tools of Titans. In it there is a chapter on Chade Meng Tan – have a read on him at Wikipedia  – such a great dude. I later read his book Joy on Demand. He talks about the benefits of practising loving kindness and specifically of one woman who had the happiest day in 7 years after just practising a few seconds of what he suggested the following day.

Aside from recommending you read Joy on Demand, I highly recommend practising loving kindness. It blows my mind how much this works. Of course the intention isn’t to benefit yourself, but others – even so, you’ll reap the benefits by default and whichever way you look at it, we all want to be happy right?

I usually practice this before I go to bed, but Meng suggests you do it for 10 seconds (it probably takes less than that) on the hour every hour while at work.

Here’s what you do…

Pick out two random people who walk by you at work at that particular moment and wish for them to be happy. That’s it. Seriously. Wish for the person you choose to be happy. Truly wish that for them. If you don’t do this at work you can try it for someone you know. If you struggle wishing others to be happy then you actually need this more than anything, but starting out with someone you know will make it easier.

That’s it.

Try it, on the hour, every hour, tomorrow. Choose a random couple of people and individually wish for them to be happy. Think in your mind as you look at that person, “I wish for you to be happy.” It is actually surprising how great this makes you feel, but at the end of the day just see for yourself…..and then do it every day and the end of that week see how you feel.

Tim Ferriss (the master experimenter himself) said that he tried it for a month and could not believe the difference in his happiness level. This was the only thing he had done differently – he questioned it because of the simplicity of the practice.

So, the perfect way to end this little ditty is just that, I wish for you to be happy!

 

[I don’t know who to credit this beautiful serene image to….I found it on Facebook and it is widely used, so if you know, please drop me a comment and I will add a credit, thank you.]

The Journey Begins

I am currently in the process of writing my third book…the first was a memoir and the second fiction…both read much like ‘chick flick lit’; just light hearted and funny. I’ve always wanted to write non fiction but never seemed to be able to get moving with it. I’d start the story only to get a few pages or chapters in and put it down again. I am sure on my computer there are at least half a dozen unfinished stories…

What makes this one different? Well, I guess it came about through and in of itself (had to think about that one) in that the idea came to me during meditation.

The book isn’t yet finished, but meditation has truly transformed my life and I figured it would be good to share that. I seem to be given more and more opportunities to promote its benefits and of practising mindfulness that it has now become somewhat of a purpose.

I have had many…purposes I mean. I always wanted to find that single purpose that would dominate my life…that ‘thing’ that I was good at and just meant to do. You know like a gymnast or an artist, a teacher or a lawyer. Some people just know what they are meant to do. They either just began it long ago when they were young and their passion just grew into their career and for others they found it later on, perhaps after college or when they started working. For me it wasn’t like that. I never really had any clue what I was doing. My life was chaotic and very self destructive. About 11 years ago (I was 35 at the time) I changed my life. It was a bit like that movie, Sliding Doors, you know the one, with Gwyneth Paltrow, where the movie shows what happened if….and then one story and if…and then another story. It was a freezing cold February night and I was probably at the height of destroying myself. The previous 20 years hadn’t gone so well…the destruction mainly manifesting itself in alcohol abuse, bad relationships and some pretty bad decisions – that is a book in of itself (there that saying goes again!). It was snowing outside and my 3 year old son was in the bath.

I had spent the 3 years prior to that February night smoking marijuana every single day to cope with what had been the end of a relationship that almost ended my life and almost my son’s life too. I was permanently stoned, to varying degrees, and could not function without marijuana or alcohol. Somehow I managed to just carry on. Resilience is something I have bucket loads of and I am so grateful for that because am sure without it I would not be here to tap this little tale.

There were times when smoking marijuana would make me dizzy. I think the fact that I went outside to smoke my first joint at 8 am didn’t help matters, but it worsened over time. It reached a point where I had reduced the amount I smoked simply because I couldn’t function well otherwise and I found a balance where I was stoned enough to be in the state I needed to be in to cope, but not too stoned to where I was dizzy. About the same time as the dizziness started I began to experience periods of time where I couldn’t sense reality anymore. I realise that’s the purpose of drugs, but for me this was more than that. Because there were so many underlying emotional issues and dysfunctions I hadn’t addressed, the marijuana just seemed to magnify them. I became paranoid, frightened and my mental state began to spiral out of control.

Back to the February evening. I was washing my son’s hair and it was as though I could see my hands washing his hair but I wasn’t there. I became dizzy and couldn’t see properly. My vision was blurring and going in and out of being clear and then flashes of black as though I were going to pass out. I tried to focus on washing his hair and chatting to him to keep myself focused on where I was. It didn’t help. I asked my daughter who would have been 7 at the time to watch my son in the bath for a minute. I stood by the top of the stairs and gripped the bannister rail to stop myself swaying and falling over. I felt like I was losing my grip on reality, as though I was not in my own head anymore. It was as though I was losing myself and what would be left would be nothing but incredibly frightening at the same time. What would be left would be a monster and not me anymore. I was losing my mind and I didn’t know who I was anymore.

In that moment as I stood gripping the bannister and trying to hang on to my mind which I felt I was losing, I had a flood of thought that seemed to fill my entire being. It wasn’t that there was a bright light or anything ethereal, but it was as though it came from somewhere else and I could see in my mind two paths. It was so sudden and so stark that it was as though my life was flashing before me, but as it would become, not as it had been. If I continued on the path of self destruction then I would not be able to hold on for much longer. I would ruin the lives of my children and risk losing them. I would ruin my life and I would end up a hollow shell and perhaps worse, I would end up dead. Or. I could change my life.

Fortunately, I chose the latter. The journey hasn’t always been easy, but I had found purpose. My children. To be the best mother I could be. It wasn’t that I was a bad mother before, I did the best with what I had and with who I was, but my priorities, whilst I would have said they were my children, were not. The self destruction was far too great and so the damage I did to myself most definitely had an impact on them. They were never hurt, not physically, thank god, but emotionally, most definitely. I am sure they felt my pain and the characters they developed early in their life would have been marred somewhat by events that took place during that time.

They have grown into beautiful, charming, funny and happy young adults and thank god for that.

That February evening was not my first experience of what I always think of as divine intervention, although I had ignored the others, much to my detriment, but it was really the first time I experienced something I couldn’t describe or make sense of logically.

When I made the decision to change my life, naturally the right things came along. These were in the form of Buddhism, meditation and yoga and those 3 things have remained and are now an intrinsic part of who I am and my life…

During the past 11 years, my purpose has always remained to be the best mum I can be and every day I strive to be better. My journey has, however, enabled me to expand and enhance my purpose (and thankfully a lot of self development and healing too!) from becoming a yoga teacher, meditation teacher, life coach and Indian head masseuse to a  writer and author, web designer, brand and marketing consultant and more recently a photographer. So many purposes. I have lost the notion of having to have a single one and feel blessed to be one of those fortunate people who has many! Although I have dropped many of those purposes, some have remained.

Overall I have come to realise that truly we are all here to help one another, to serve others and to be kind. To be the best version of ourselves that we can be and to always do our best. It is cliche to say, let’s all strive for world peace, but so true and so very much needed. Did you know, and I quote the Dalai Lama, that if every 8 year old in the world was taught to meditate, we would eliminate violence in one generation? So, yes, let’s all strive for world peace.

Everyone has a past, whether it be good, bad or indifferent. Meditation isn’t just for healing or some mystical Eastern practice just for self help junkies. It is practical and perfect for our modern day life. It improves your emotional and physical wellbeing and is accessible to everyone, anytime.

Practising meditation and mindfulness every day will literally transform your life…

 

 

[Some years ago I bought this stock image for a meditation page on one of my websites at the time. I love it and so there is some irony that it was perhaps always destined …that so many years later it has become the cover of my new book; Maldives for the Mind.]